Monday, June 6, 2022

Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes on Stage.

 

[Evening Star, Washington, October 31, 1931]

Richard Gordon was 48 years old in 1930, the year he began to play Sherlock Holmes on radio, with another established stage actor, Leigh Lovell, as his Watson. Apart from this celebrated radio series and a screen appearance in "The Radio Murder Mystery" (1933) as 'Sherlock Holmes of the Air', it is not generally known that Gordon played the Great Detective more than once on stage.

"THE MAZARIN STONE" - 21 JULY, 1933.

[Evening Star, Washington, 20 July, 1933]


Loew's Fox Theatre, Washington, opened in 1927 and was renamed Loew's Capitol Theatre in 1936. On Friday, 21 July, 1933, audiences were offered both screen and live stage in a joint programme. Helen Twelvetrees 'Disgraced' herself with Bruce Cabot in the film. On stage, as part of the live entertainment, Richard Gordon appeared as Holmes with Lovell as Watson in "The Mazarin Stone". Washington's Evening Star described the performance:



The event had been heralded on the 19th in the same newspaper with a superb sketch of Gordon as Holmes by Newman Sudduth:

"THE SIGN OF THE FOUR" JULY 8-13, 1907.
Richard Gordon was 25 years old in 1907 when he performed as leading man for Sylvester Poli's Own Stock company at the Jacques Theater in Waterbury, CT. This was home country for the young actor, born 30 miles away in Bridgeport in October, 1882. His real name was George Gerbich, son of Mr. & Mrs. John G. Gerbich. Perhaps there were Gerbich family members in the audience when the local-lad-made-good took possession of 221B.

The Waterbury evening Democrat previewed SIGN on the 6th and 8th, reviewing on July 10 and 12. Here is the block advertisement:

Here is the review of 10 July:

Unfortunately, this newspaper did not run to a photograph, but here is Richard Gordon just two months later, playing Frederick Ossian in "The Butterflies" for Poli's Own Stock company at the Bijou:
[Daily Morning Journal & Courier, 21 September, 1907]

OTHER PERFORMANCES.

Late in my research of Gordon's stage career, I came across some relevant extracts on Google Books from Ian Dickerson's "Sherlock Holmes and his Adventures on American Radio" (2019).

Dickerson is very informative about Gordon's early days. At 16 he worked a while reporting for the Bridgeport Morning Union, before enrolling at Yale Art School in New York, and thence to the American Academy of Dramatic Art, graduating in 1902. Eventually, from Owen Moore's Stock Company, he joined Poli's in 1906 as leading man. He served as First Lieutenant during the First World War and returned to the theatre, often touring with his wife, actress, Emily Ann Wellman.

Importantly, Dickerson remarks, having mentioned Gordon's Poli Sherlock: "As his career progressed he was to play Holmes on stage another half dozen times." I have not been able to track down these other productions. Most likely they are noted by Gordon himself in the Richard Gordon Diaries 1908-1940 held in the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University Libraries. There are seven, each listing theatre engagements. Perhaps Dickerson has read these.

In conclusion, I should be delighted to receive any further information about Richard Gordon's elusive stage appearances as Sherlock Holmes.

 ©RAYWILCOCKSON 2022.



Friday, May 13, 2022

Sherlock Holmes and the Crippen Musical.

 


        "When a doctor does go wrong, he is the first of criminals". [Sherlock Holmes, "The Speckled Band"]


In 1910, three striking examples of doctors gone wrong were before the British public, two literary and one real: Drs. Jekyll, Rylott and Crippen. For the first two the Queen's and the Adelphi provided the stage; for the last, the equally dramatic arena of the Old Bailey. Half a century later, the murderer of Corrine ('Cora') Henrietta Crippen, aka 'Belle Elmore', music hall singer, trod the boards anew in "Belle; or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen", Wolf Mankowitz's short-lived, controversial, oddball cocktail of a musical, that remixed the historical events with music and lyrics by Monty Norman, set it in the Bedford Music Hall of 1910, and served it with a Master of Ceremonies and a splash of Sherlock Holmes for good measure.

Background - The Three Doctors of 1910.

Mrs. Crippen disappeared after a party at home in Hilldrop Crescent, on 31 January, 1910, five days after the opening of a new stage version of Stevenson's novel, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" at the Queen's, with H. B. Irving (Sir Henry's son) in the title role. A resounding success, Irving was still touring the play through Crippen's October trial to the end of the year.  Gilbert Holiday's drawing for The Graphic of 5 February, 1910, was used for the Queen's poster and best captures the public's elemental fear of a doctor's potential to commit evil. Holiday draws what is impossible on any stage but that of the imagination: both beings side by side.



In late February, Wrench Film released a 2-reel short called "The Duality of Man", in cinemas from March. It is believed Irving directed it himself and likely focused on the stage's transformation scenes. 

By the time Crippen and his lover were arrested on board the Montrose on July 31, 1910, Lyn Harding had created a defining characterisation of Conan Doyle's doctor gone wrong. Since June 4, the Adelphi's production of "The Speckled Band" had swelled both the bank balance of its author and Harding's reputation. Many others would play Dr. Grimesby Rylott with variable success, but all standing on the shoulders of Harding's barnstorming performance that ensured the role often appeared above that of Sherlock Holmes in news advertisements.

Again, it was The Graphic that caught the horrific duality, this time by pairing actor and character side by side, in its article on the 1921 revival.

The Graphic 29 October 1921



 By the time of the trial in October, public fascination had reached fever pitch, with newspapers vying to meet an insatiable thirst for pictures and tasty morsels about even the most peripheral figures in the saga of chase, capture and arraignment. In keeping with the victim's profession, there was a strong theatrical thread to the Crippen case. When arrested, the couple were in disguise, Le Neve as a boy.

Belle - Crippen - Le Neve


To facilitate a quiet return to British shores, the prisoners were given pseudonyms and the arresting officer from Scotland Yard, Chief Inspector Dew, assumed the name 'Doyle' (modestly not 'Sherlock'). Speaking of whom...

Passes for the public gallery of the Central Criminal Court were like gold dust in October, 1910. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got one courtesy one of the lawyers; and H. B. Irving attended every day, both listening with rapt attention to the proceedings. Along with Doyle, Irving was a founder member of Our Society (1903), whose members met (still meet) to discuss all matters criminal. Irving had a professional interest, not so much as an actor but as a trained barrister called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1894. While he eventually opted for the stage, upon retirement during the Great War, he settled to writing about crime with legal expertise. 

Our cast is assembled: author, performer and perpetrator of doctors' crimes. Not surprising reports of the trial sometimes sounded like theatrical reviews. Witness this Tit-Bit of the Week in the Bradford Weekly Telegraph:

Bradford Weekly Telegraph 21 October, 1910


Sherlock Holmes and the Crippen Musical 1961.

The musical in two acts that opened at the Strand Theatre, London, on 4 May, 1961, was originally a play script by Beverley Cross intended for Nottingham Playhouse. Wolf Mankowitz transmuted it into something too large for that stage and it premiered in a week-long run at the King's, Southsea (April 10), moved to Brighton's Theatre Royal (April 17 for a fortnight) and so to the Strand. It was withdrawn on June 10 after 44 performances. See The Guide to Musical Theatre for dramatis personae and music numbers. The Stage listed the first night cast on 13 April:

Of relevance here are the characters 'George Lasher' and 'Mighty Mick', played respectively by Jerry Desmonde and Davy Kaye. Desmonde parodies the elegance of the real-life Edwardian singer and comedian, George Lashwood, acting as MC and narrator throughout, as well as appearing in a variety of guises, including Sherlock Holmes. Kaye's Mighty Mick is resident comedian at the show's internal theatre, the Bedford Music Hall, chosen because Belle Elmore often performed there. He too flits from costume to costume, including Sherlock Holmes. Jeff Vickers photographed them for The Tatler on 24 May, 1961 (Desmonde behind the diminutive Kaye):

On 11 May, 1961, The Stage published R. B. Marriott's favourable review, including a close-up of Davy Kaye, clipped from the Vickers photo and this paragraph on our two Holmeses:


By contrast, writing in the Birmingham Post on 5 May, J. C. Trewin slammed the production, taking issue with the inappropriate subject for musical comedy and noting a bit of detective business:


 Reviewing the Brighton try-out on 21 April, the Sussex Agricultural Review was more enthusiastic and praised the two comedians:


 
 With regard to the extent of Sherlockian content, I detect no overt reference to the detective in the songs which may be listened to on Youtube here: The Songs 
though the libretto must surely invoke Sherlock Holmes.

Mankowitz was convinced unwarranted adverse criticism had driven the production off stage, losing him £20,000, and immediately proceeded to prepare a 55-minute version (filmed on stage) for ITV which was broadcast as the Big Night Out attraction on 12 August, 1961. Both Desmonde and Kaye featured.

Intermission - 1967.

The Bedford Theatre in 1949


Following the televised version (and failed attempts by Mankowitz to interest Broadway producers), Belle; or the Ballad of Dr. Crippen slipped into obscurity, mirroring the dark stage that was the old Bedford Music Hall. Having closed in 1959 it fell into disrepair and was finally demolished a decade later. But not before future John Watson, James Mason, paid a nostalgic visit (shod in impeccably shiny shoes) in the 60's cult classic The London Nobody Knows (1967). Mason makes no mention of the Mankowitz musical, though Belle Elmore is fleetingly referenced with grim humour as a possible theatre ghost. This atmospheric film may be viewed on Dailymotion here: The London Nobody Knows

Three Revivals.

On 12-19 September, 1964, the Erith Playhouse, Erith, Kent, presented the musical with Harold Bull as George Lasher and Louis Cox as Mighty Mick:
Erith Playhouse 1964

From June 27 to July 12, 1980, the Tower Theatre, Canonbury, presented the musical with Dennis Adams as Lasher and Harry Lupino as Mick. Here is the record of production with just two cast photos: Tower Theatre

As late as 2016, we find the Vale Royal Musical Theatre performing a few nights (16-18 March) with David 'Cantona' Lee and Garry Wallis as our comedians - though I am not sure which is Lasher or Mick. see the photo record on Facebook here: Vale Production Photos

Vale Royal Musical Theatre 2016

A Permanent Record 2022.

I timed this post to coincide with a remarkable milestone. The unique A-Z of Sherlock Holmes Performers, curated by Sherlock Holmes media expert, Howard Ostrom of Florida, is currently gliding past 8000 total entries. I've been delighted over the years to contribute to this ongoing Magnum Opus and, hopefully, Howard will find more grist in this post for his Sherlockian mill. The value of this collection is incalculable: with the help of ever-expanding, searchable news archives from around the world, the A-Z documents (usually with photographs) many a performance of the Great Detective that would otherwise (like those in Belle) languish in obscurity.

 ©RAYWILCOCKSON 2022.



Saturday, December 25, 2021

'Disjecta Membra' and "The Blue Carbuncle".

 

[4 am Christmas Day on the corner of Goodge Street & Tottenham Court Road]

         Christmas Morning, 1889.

   Had he not earlier encountered “a little knot of roughs” on the way home from the Alpha Inn, Henry Baker and his wife would surely have been rendered speechless to find a blue diamond as she prepared their Christmas goose for the oven. Instead, having abandoned the goose with his hat in panic during the fracas, we must imagine a miserable household (with Henry likely in the doghouse) even as Commissionaire Peterson, his saviour, brings them to Sherlock Holmes “knowing that even the smallest problems are of interest to me”.

[Christmas Morning "Presents" for Sherlock Holmes]

The detective proceeds to occupy himself throughout Christmas and Boxing Day in deducing what he can of the anonymous owner, ironically in possession of the Countess of Morcar’s stolen Blue Carbuncle without knowing it. 


Morning, 27 December, 1889.


By the time Dr. Watson calls on his friend two days after Christmas to wish him the compliments of the season, Holmes has, that morning, already returned the goose to its finder to eat before it goes off. Naturally enough, the hat repays close examination. By contrast, beyond noting a tag reading “For Mrs. Henry Baker”, attached to the bird’s left leg, Holmes gives the bird scant attention. Until Peterson bursts in on the pair with news of his wife’s discovery, the goose has provided only a name, a marital status, and (along with deductions from the hat), the notion of the bird as a peace-offering to a cold wife.

Galvanised into action, now in his element, Holmes is wryly amused to realise what lay undetected within such easy reach. Inviting Watson to dine at 7 pm, he comments “There is a woodcock, I believe, By the way, in view of recent occurrences, perhaps I ought to ask Mrs. Hudson to examine its crop.”


Disjecta Membra.


By the time Watson returns to Baker Street, Henry Baker has seen Holmes’ advert in the evening papers and the pair are shown up together. In the ensuing interview which serves to establish Baker knew nothing of the diamond, this “man of learning and letters” employs the quaint phrase “disjecta membra” to describe “the feathers, legs, crop and so on” Holmes says were retained,after eating the goose. This Latinate allusion is entirely appropriate from the lips of one who spends his days amid old books and manuscripts in the British Museum.
It is essentially an academic joke from a man much relieved to know he has a fresh goose to take home that night.

[An Absolutely Innocent Man]


Beyond economically characterising its speaker, this arresting, italicised phrase, aptly relates to the process of deduction and art of detection. Generally, we find it in two contexts: literature and pottery.  Deriving from one of Horace’s satires, where he refers to scattered limbs, members, or remains,  disjecta membra has come to signify fragments of literary works which may be scattered to far-flung libraries and, with expertise, pieced back together to reconstruct the original manuscript. Much the same approach is applied in the study of (especially) ancient shards of vases and the like. 


The phrase would be familiar to the detective who was well versed in the study of Miracle Plays, 15th Century palimpsests, early English charters and medieval pottery, all of which provided practice in his chosen profession. He deduces Henry Baker from the clue-shards on his hat, pieces together the whole history of the Blue Carbuncle’s progress from Countess to crop, and reconstructs, from scattered remains, in every Canon case. And the reward for success? The Blue Carbuncle of Solution hidden amid the disjecta membra he must ever ponder and re-unite.


[The Blue Carbuncle of Solution]


Mr. and Mrs. Baker.


Apart from suggesting Henry Baker as a literary type, the notion of something disintegrating that was once whole and flourishing expands to include the man’s career and marriage. From inspection of his hat, Holmes conjures up an accurate portrait of one who “has fallen upon evil days”, who used to be well-to-do, suffered a “moral retrogression” and “decline in fortunes”, possibly through drink, but has “retained some degree of self respect”, though his wife has ceased to love him. Watson confirms as much describing the Baker he meets as giving “the impression generally of a man of learning and letters who had had ill-usage at the hands of fortune.”  


We do not directly meet Mrs. Baker in the story, but Holmes paints a picture extrapolated from knowledge of the husband. Just as Henry has come adrift from his former status, so has a marriage begun to crumble.


Yet, however miserable the couple’s Christmas must have been, there are signs all may not be lost. We doubt she will have sympathised with her husband; perhaps even questioned the veracity of his excuses. But he leaves Baker Street in good humour, and we know there’s still a wife to welcome the belated goose.


In securing the original bird through the Alpha Inn Goose Club, Henry has also tried to do the right thing and succeeded. Though “shillings have not been so plentiful with me as they once were”, he had duly paid his few pence each week to Mr. Windigate, qualifying him for a goose.  As the contemporary article below indicates, this was not always a foregone conclusion; some men missed payments and suffered the consequence.


That Henry Baker kept on the straight and narrow, despite his propensity for drink, attests to the man’s residual self-respect and good intentions. The tag on the bird’s left leg may also offer a little more than Holmes reads into it.


 At no point does the detective consider who wrote the tag or why it names the wife. Henry had no need to attach it; if he had, not even he would address a present: “for Mrs. Henry Baker”. Good host, Windigate, had every reason to tag each of the 24 destined for customers on the Goose Club list who had paid in full. Most straightforwardly the wife’s name was copied from that list, which implies the bird was ordered either by her or in her name. Either way, Windigate knew, as Henry knew, that a wife’s happiness was at stake.Her name in the book stood as a reminder to both on every visit to the inn that this was money he should not drink away.


A Final ‘Disjectus Membrum’ - A Clipping from the Bristol Mercury.


In 1889, geese were pretty well as expensive as they are now. The prices revealed by Breckinridge of Covent Garden were realistic. He bought (from Mrs. Oakshott) “Twenty-four geese at 7s 6d” and sold them to the Alpha Inn “at 12s”. The day after Holmes concluded his investigation with the Ryder confession, the Bristol Mercury described the usual procedure and risks associated with goose clubs run by London inns. I leave you with that this Christmas Day.


 A toast to Henry Bakers everywhere - may they all take home the goose to a happy house!

And a toast to Mrs. Hudsons, here and abroad, who, today, religiously check the crop of their chosen Christmas bird. Just in case.


[from the Bristol Mercury for 28 December, 1889]



NB: The photographs above are all stills from Granada TV's "The Blue Carbuncle" (1984) starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, David Burke as Watson, Frank Mills as Peterson and Frank Middlemass as Henry Baker.


Further Reading:

Over Christmas and New Year, 2012/13, I wrote a trio of posts on the artistry of "The Blue Carbuncle", taking (as here) 1889 as the generally accepted date of this case. To read them in sequence, click on each title link below. You'll come across  a few outdated references to the film's existence on YouTube. May I redirect you to dailymotion which currently offers the full episode.


1. Follow That Goose! - A Timeline


2. A Gem of a Short Story


3. How to Write like Doctor Watson


Dailymotion BLUE


©RAYWILCOCKSON 2021




Saturday, October 30, 2021

Conan Doyle's Spooks Tour with The Rolling Stones (1920-22).

 

 [Conan Doyle lecturing on spiritualism as visualised by the New York Tribune 19 April, 1922]

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entered what would prove to be his last decade on earth, he devoted ever more time and energy to promoting spiritualism at home and abroad through lecture tours and debates. In London, the lost Queen's Hall on Langham Place was a favoured venue and, ironically, the very stage occupied by The Rolling Stones over New Year, 1922, performing a burlesque on the author of Sherlock Holmes called "Spooks" that had been played up and down the country in theatres (including the Stoll circuit) and pier pavilions since its premier at the Strollers' Pavilion, Derby, on 1 March, 1920.

Long before Jagger/Richards et al, producer, Richard Jerome, rechristened a concert party called "Originality" and sent "The Rolling Stones" on tour with a new entertainment called "The Pierrots' Carnival", written by Jerome and Dick Henty and directed by its star actors, Dick Francis and Doreen Season. 



According to the Derby Daily Telegraph for 2 March, 1920, "The Pierrots' Carnival" was a concert party entertainment, comprising musical numbers and burlesque scenes, framed by a novel idea. The company are supposed to be a set of art students in the Latin Quartier of Paris, and owing to their penniless condition are deprived of a visit to the carnival. As they are bemoaning their penurious state, Pierrot (Dick Francis) bursts in, and they decide to hold high revels among themselves. The Arts are personified as follows: Music - Doreen Season; Drama- Dorothy Clifford; Dance- Marie Studley; Painting- Guy Reeve; Sculpture- Alec Hardisty and Literature- Dick Henty. 

This first review mentions in passing a burlesque of "Spiritism", in which Adam and Eve, Antony and Cleopatra, and Napoleon and the Kaiser are "materialised". More detail on this comes from a variety of news articles.

The Cheshire Observer for 20 March, 1920, tells us "Spooks, a skit on the modern seance, and introducing historic characters, was remarkably humorous".

From the Staffordshire Advertiser for 29 May, 1920, we learn "in a concerted number, entitled 'Spooks', Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears and at a seance he produces Adam and Eve. Then Sherlock Holmes comes on and proves that spiritualism is all a farce. To do this he calls Napoleon and the Kaiser, whom he unmasks".

On 3 June, 1920, The Stage noted "Among the best things done (was) 'Spooks', in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is shown at a seance producing Adam and Eve".

We are indebted to The Era for 8 June, 1921, for details of "Spooks" cast:


None of the 28 references to the production found in the British Newspaper Archive is illustrated by production or artist images. 

Young Dick Henty, who played Sherlock Holmes, was primarily known as a talented composer of songs and often advertises himself as the brother of the famous novelist, Maurice Hewlett. Some of Henty's surviving sheet music , such as "I'm a Cornish Man" (1926) names the librettist as "William Hewlett". I think this is Henty himself: Maurice's family tree lists Henry William Hewlett as a brother.

He had previously been with PĂ©lissier 's original "Follies" and "The Quaints"for whom he wrote the music featured in "The Pedlar of Dreams", a 1915 revue-fantasy that had also featured Pierrot as the central character. 

Henty is one of the troupe in this blurred illustration to the Rolling Stones 1924 sheet music:

 


"The Tatler" included a caricature of Dick Henty composing for a Windmill production in 1935:


Dick Francis would presumably have burlesqued Conan Doyle wearing the costume of Pierrot. Here are images of him from other productions:

                                        [Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, 8 October, 1937]


                                                      [The Sphere 14 February, 1931]

                                              [The Sphere 6 November, 1926]


Epilogue - Conan Doyle's Last Decade.
There is a long history of burlesque representations of Sherlock Holmes stretching back to 1893's "Under the Clock". Doyle himself was the occasional butt for ridicule before the war but his very public championing of spiritualism rendered him especially vulnerable in later years. The Rolling Stones skit is symptomatic of a general shift. ACD was still submitting the stories that made up the Casebook from 1921 to 1927, yet his preoccupation with the next world seemed at odds with the detective for whom he composed the following observation in The Sussex Vampire (1924):
       "This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply."

It's significant that the fictional character is tasked with debunking spiritism in "Spooks". Holmes has morphed into a repository for common sense and the rational (in contrast to Doyle's embrace of all things supernatural), aided, I would suggest, by the signal success of Eille Norwood's Stoll series. Americans viewed Norwood's Holmes as the authentic, serious incarnation, as opposed to the contemporary interesting, but star-led, Barrymore blockbuster.  

In this final decade, Conan Doyle seems marooned between the substantiality of his fictional creation and an anarchic Puckish spirit abroad that cannot resist poking fun at spooks and fairies.

On this Halloween Eve in 2021, in the absence of a script or photographs of The Rolling Stones' "Spooks" burlesque, I recommend a film from 1920 that, I think, possesses the same Pierrot-inspired fun at the expense of all ghosts who may apply: Max Fleischer's "Out of the Inkwell: the Ouija Board".
 


©RAYWILCOCKSON 2021

 . 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Portsmouth's Lost Conan Doyle Room (A Song of Action).

 "Now blesse thy selfe: thou met'st with things dying, I with things new borne."

                                                       [The Winter's Tale Act 3, scene 3]


On the morning of July 7th, 1930, the day Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died, four boys woke up in the unfamiliar surroundings of 84, Kingston Crescent, Portsmouth. They were the initial intake of the city's first hostel for boys, set up under the presidency of the Lord Bishop, to be run on diocesan lines by a committee, backed by the council, navy and subscriptions. The story of its ten years in existence may be followed in local newspapers, especially the supportive Portsmouth Evening News. I shall focus on the author's posthumous connection with the hostel.

             


 From the beginning the scheme was beset by debt and it is testament to the dedication of its fundraisers and staff that, despite the economic hardship that typified the 1930's, all was running on an even keel, in credit, by 1935. Enough had been raised to pay for major internal works required to secure Home Office recognition and grants. An extension was added that meant the hostel could house its projected full complement of 24 boys at any one time. In practice, it was almost always full, with a few beds kept vacant for emergencies. Had the war not intervened it would likely have given many more years of service, but closure came with evacuation measures. The facility became a daytime boys' club about the time Conan Doyle's widow died. It is to her we now turn.


Lady Conan Doyle and the Conan Doyle Room.

Lady Conan Doyle in 1931
  

   As his second wife, Conan Doyle's widow had not 

  shared her husband's formative years in Southsea,

  but she clearly appreciated the mutual bond of

  the doctor-writer and his beloved city.


  Moreover, the thought she took over the nature of

  contributions to the hostel in his memory shows

  she knew what he represented to young people.




On August 20th, 1930, this report

appeared in Portsmouth Evening News.





Here is the record of Lady Conan Doyle's £20 contribution:

Hampshire Telegraph 17 October, 1930,

On September 16, the Portsmouth Evening News looked forward to the hostel's opening ceremony on October 14, noting that Lady Conan Doyle and family were expected to attend. They do not appear to have done so, having no presence in reports or photographs of the event. I suspect she was already ill with the ailment that prevented her from travelling to Philadelphia, in County Durham, the following Saturday. The Hull Daily Mail reported on 20th October that son, Dennis, had opened the new Christian Spiritual Church, "deputising for his mother, Lady Doyle, who is ill." This would not be the end of the story.


A Song of Action.


It may be wondered whether the proposed room got off the ground. Evidence that it did is provided in a Hampshire Telegraph article of 8th May, 1931.


Here is finance for re-decoration and the gift of a significant artefact, the plaque from the author's bedroom. Lady Conan Doyle has chosen weil.

The verse adorning the plaque quotes the first half of the 17th stanza in Conan Doyle's own work, The Farnshire Cup", published in the collection, "Songs of Action" (1898). The poem may be read HERE

A fictional tale of the turf, the poem is imbued with the author's life-long love of action and captures well the thrilling physicality of a horse race. It's a moral tale: little Joe Chauncy is riding Spider, a rank outsider, and beats the field, including the favourite, because "he'd make a wooden horse go" and exemplifies the moral made explicit in the plaque's verse.

Without long searching, I found multiple examples in newspapers of the early 20th century, in which these very lines are quoted in isolation (often without authorial attribution) as sterling advice to young men. They are the only section of the poem shorn of specific racing detail and are, thus, readily detached as general moral sayings. History has treated Polonius in the same way.

The Irregulars of Kingston Crescent.




This is Richard Gutschmidt's 1902 illustration of
Sherlock Holmes with the Baker Street Irregulars.

He may not have housed these children of the streets 
but he employed them for the ultimate good of society, gave purpose and valued their skills.









The clear objective of the Kingston Crescent Hostel for Boys was to provide a temporary home for any boy aged 14-19 who was, for one reason or another, without shelter. While Toc H would assist in finding employment, the provision of a wholesome, homely atmosphere was paramount, and a female presence on the staff considered essential. Boys typically stayed for months at a time and often repaid the charity with their own donations long after leaving. Orphans, runaways, petty criminals and those estranged from families: these were Portsmouth's own "Irregulars". 

A Song of Action.



  
  On the left: a vice-admiral's headquarters
  from the Hampshire Telegraph 4 March, 1932.




     On the right: the hostel with its new wing,
     built with the help of a vice-admiral.
     Photo from Portsmouth Evening News
     for 15 November, 1932.











There is a final connection of interest to Sherlockians. On April 1, 1930, Henry Edgar Grace CB was promoted vice-admiral and put on the Retired List the following day. He was the son of famous cricketer, W. G. Grace and, at 53, keen to find new matters to occupy an active, methodical mind that revelled in organization.
            

At the beginning of 1931, the hostel was in dire financial straits. Taking over as chairman, Grace declared: "The Committee had either to get on or get out."

The retired sailor set out on a truly remarkable fundraising marathon in person.
From March 1st to the middle of August, when his doctor advised rest, Grace made some 18.000 door-to-door visits asking for donations. He was a skilful salesman: using a cricket analogy to market the campaign, he spoke of making a 1000 hits in the manner of his batsman father. Locals became used to seeing his specially modified vehicle about town: he had slots fitted with chutes into which you could slide coins.
       
from Portsmouth Evening News March 1, 1932.


His illness notwithstanding, Vice-Admiral Grace, through giving his mind to it and knowing how to do it, raised close on £1500 by the end of that year, saving the hostel. Conan Doyle would have acclaimed him.

Lost?

So much effort for one decade of operation. But well worth it. The legacy lived on, not in the bricks and mortar of 84, Kingston Crescent ( long-demolished, I think) but in the lives of those who benefited and their descendants. 

The Sherlockian is left wondering what happened to the contents of that lost Conan Doyle Room. Especially the plaque from his last bedroom. Perchance Mrs. Watson, the matron (yes!), moved by her canonical namesake, spirited his verse to safety in 1940. Maybe it was returned to the family and lies, uncatalogued, in Portsmouth's Lancelyn Green collection. 

Who knows? But if you're in the Hampshire area, at a car boot, antique centre, auction or charity shop, and spot this verse in an early 20th century frame...snap it up!


 ©RAYWILCOCKSON 2021